An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.
Michael D. Miller
|Chapter 11: Resumption Statutes
|The 15th-century shared the dislike of any age towards
payment of taxes. There was a general insistence that the 'King should live of his
'the King's own'.
The reader who has ventured into the intricacy of Chapter , which describes the finances of the Realm, will have a good idea what constituted 'the King's own'; very briefly, it was the income generated by the Royal estates, various 'fines' (these were not necessarily criminal by nature), other payments due on some kinds of civil transactions, and some of the Customs and Excise duties. It is true that these latter duties were a form of taxation because the importer passed the cost onto the consumer, but by the beginning of the 15th-century they were an accepted part of 'the King's own', even if Parliament did from time to time vary the rates at which they were charged. They raised important sums by way of revenue. King Henry IV and his successors had gone even further than this, and had devoted the revenues of the vast Lancaster estates to 'the King's own' although these were, strictly speaking, their own private property. King Henry IV, unlike other Kings, had been a private person before he became King, and whilst he had been a wealthy Duke, he was not a wealthy King.
The expression 'live of his own' meant that the King must use 'his own' to pay not only his personal expenses and those of his household, which could include very substantial expense when there was a coronation or some other state occasion, but also the expenses of running the country. These would include such diverse matters as maintaining the Royal castles and their garrisons and paying the judges salaries.
At the best, this was a very onerous obligation. Chapter shows that in peacetime it could only just be done within the available revenues of 'the King's own', and then only with the most careful husbandry. There was nothing left over to meet the costs of a foreign war or other adventure, and there was no room for any extravagence. If there was a deficit, Parliament would be asked to authorise taxation to meet it.
Here there was a fruitful source for discord. It was undeniable that the Royal Prerogative included the right of the King to give away parts of 'the King's own' to whom-soever he chose, and this could not legally be challenged. The alienation from the Crown to a private individual could be an absolute transfer of the fee simple in land or some lesser transfer such as a lease for the life of the recipient or for a term of years which might, or might not, require the payment of rent either at or below the market rate. Sometimes land, or other parts of 'the King's own', were charged with the payment of a pension or an annuity. Such alienation was more acceptable when, for good and deserving reasons, the King might wish to create a new title and give its holder the means to support its dignity, or wished to reward good and faithful service, or thought it right to make financial provision for the dependents of somebody who had served the Crown well. Less acceptable was the giving away of Crown Lands to mere favourites of the King who had done nothing to deserve such largesse, and both King Richard 11 and King Henry VI attracted much critcism for doing so. Whatever form the alienation took, the revenues of 'the King's own' suffered a diminution which needed to be made good from other sources, and this was invariably taxation.
It was not that Parliament was totally against the grant of taxation when it could be persuaded that it was necessary, although after the death of King Henry V (and even to some extent before it), the Common House took strong exception to paying for the War in France. If the benefits of "good English government" were to be bestowed on the French, then they must pay for it. In any case, the common man and woman in the street saw no benefits to them from the war; they would all go to the Crown and the nobles. If they were to get the benefits of any conquest, then let them find the money to achieve it. There was moreover a natural revulsion, which found particular expression in the last years of King Richard 11's extravagent reign, and was to do so again in that of King Henry VI, that the Royal Estates should be granted away to favourites of the King, thus losing their income to the Exchequer, and that Parliament should then be required to make up the deficiency by taxation. If the Royal Estates had been alienated to others, even to the extent of merely being charged with the payment of annuities, then some contempory opinion held the view that they ought to be taken back into the Royal ownership, or as it was expressed, "resumed." If the Royal revenues could be thus increased, then the need for taxation could be correspondingly decreased, or perhaps even disappear altogether.
It was a natural enough feeling, even though a study of Chapter will indicate the knife edge between income and expenditure on which the Crown was balanced, even with a King who was as prudent and careful as King Henry IV, and that the hope for a substantial reduction in the need for taxation was a vain one. Acts of Resumption which Parliament forced on successive reluctant Kings (before the largely successful Act of 1451) rarely achieved anything like their objectives. The results must have been disappointing to the successive Parliaments, who then had little hesitation in accusing the King of being obstructive and uncooperative in enforcing them. There was frequently good cause for such accusations. Nevertheless successive Parliaments persisted, and thus came up against the hitherto undoubted right of medieval Kings to reward good service with grants of land and to make provision for the dependants of good and faithful servants by granting pensions which were a charge on the income of specified revenue. These Acts were a fruitful source of conflict between the Executive body, the King and his Council, and the legislative and tax granting body, which was Parliament, throughout the first half of the 15th-century.
It is unfair to accuse Parliament of being unreasonable. Accounting practises of the period were not as highly developed as they are today, and Parliament did not have the statisical information that it needed. The present practice of the Chancellor's detailed Budget statement of prospective expenditure, and his equally detailed proposals for the taxation to met it, were not given to the extent that they are today, and without them, Parliament had little hope of understanding the countries financial position. Before 1433 when the Tresurer, Lord Cromwell, first began to give this information freely (albeit in a rudimentary and not very satisfactory form), Parliament did not have anything like what it needed to form a sound judgement on the Crown's requirements. Indeed King Henry IV had angrily reminded Parliament in 1401 that Kings did not render accounts.
The most that the Parliaments of the early 15-century ever received was a verbal statement, sometimes given by the Chancellor or Treasurer, but more often by the Speaker, of the state of the Realm's finances. How much of this the individual members recalled, or even understood, in subsequent discussion is problematical. It is scarcely to be wondered at if their understanding was, at best, imperfect. They were not used to handling or even considering large sums of money, and the very figures themselves may have seemed daunting to men who only a few weeks before had been at home looking after their own puny affairs with never a thought that they would shortly be considering the weighty affairs of the Realm. It is scarcely more surprising if they simply relied on their instincts, and the one which came most readily to the fore was that the King would have plenty of money if only he did not give away the land which produced it, or otherwise charge it to pay away income which could and should have come to him. He must therefore be called upon to "resume" it.
Invariably this was easier said than done. Parliament had very little to go on to judge the effects of resumption. It was easy enough to say that a piece of land, which had produced £500 of income annually before it was given away, should be resumed so that it again gave the Exchequer £500. It rarely worked out in this way. It might be impossible for the King to resume it without causing grave offence to a faithful supporter and a corresponding upset to the delicate political balance. It may have been charged with an annuity to reward somebody, or his dependents, in return for the services which he had rendered the Monarch, and there was a moral objection to cancelling it. The Kings had an understandable reluctance to parliamentary interference with gifts or grants which clearly lay within the bounds of their Prerogative. Parliament, with little data on which to judge the effect of a resumption, invariably hoped for far greater results than it was realistic to expect.
King Henry IV (between 1399 - 1413)
At the Parliament which met in Coventry in 1404, a determined group of Parliamentary knights, members of the Common House, put forward a plan that lands given away within the past (nearly) 40 years should be resumed by the Crown. This included all castles, manors, lordships, lands, tenements, fees, advowsons, feefarms, annuities, franchises, liberties and customs which had been, "membre et parcelle d'auncien Enheritance de la dite Corone" in the 40th year of King Edward 111's reign (1366) but which had been given away at and since that date. They believed that misuse of the Royal lands had begun in the declining years of Edward 111's life ( he died in 1377), and that this misuse had continued in King Richard 11's time due to his extravagance. There was also a note of criticism creeping in of King Henry IV, who had come to the throne in 1399, some five years before. There was a further point to the period of nearly 40 years; [Fryde & Miller (Wolffe) page 66] the period from 1366 - 1404 was sufficiently long for the vast majority of the lands affected, either because they were leased or granted for a term of years or for life, to have reverted to the Crown at least once during that period. They would thus be included within the terms of the plan. If these lands could be resumed by the Crown, and either retained or sold for their true value, or leased at a realistic rent, then the Royal Revenues would benefit to a huge extent. The idea was not a new one; various attempts in this direction had been made since 1377 without much success.
In one of the lampoons which were as popular at the time as they later became in the 18th-century, the targets for this proposal were clearly identified. The King's advisers, the Members of the Council, the Lords Temporal and the Lords Spiritual had, "pulled the pears off the Royal Tree" and, "were licking even the leaves".
It cannot have surprised these Parliamentary Knights that there was a storm of protest from the Lords, both Spiritual and Temporal, and we are indebted to the St Albans chronicler, Thomas Walsingham, for a description of the furore which the plan caused. The Temporal Lords had most to lose from this proposal, whilst their spiritual counter-parts, who had also benefited from the royal largesse, feared that the same principle would in time be applied to other church lands. There was no issue which could be relied upon to raise the ire of the medieval Church so much as any threat, either direct or indirect, to the Church's property. The Knights were even accused of Lollardy, by which was meant that they disapproved of the ownership of property in any shape or form. This was scarcely justified; the qualification for sitting in Parliament required that the Parliamentary Knights should be property-owners themselves.
This move was not unforeseen. As early as 1400 the Council had warned the King against grants of land which might be regarded as wasteful and thus prejudice the grant of taxation by Parliament. An earlier Parliament had strongly critisized the expense of the King's household and the lavish nature of his grants. It had agreed to a new land tax, but had imposed conditions which were previously unheard of; whilst £12, 000 were to go to the King, the rest was to be paid to 4 Treasurers of War who were appointed by, and answerable to, Parliament. It was not enough for the King's needs, and by the time the 1404 Parliament met, his financial embarrassment was so acute that he had had to suspend payment of annuities. Parliament thus had the King at a grave disadvantage, and did not hesitate to make use of its strong position.
King Henry IV was a shrewd and clever man who fully realised that his political position was not a strong one. He was an usurper, and whilst he had been accepted by popular acclaim as a welcome change to the abuses of the previous reign, there were many who privately disapproved of his occupation of the Throne. He had only sat on it for five years, too short a time to make the House of Lancaster secure in its tenure. He could just as easily be turned out by another coup. It had happened once, and could happen again. He therefore avoided a direct confrontation with Parliament to what must have seemed an impertinent proposition, and sought refuge in negotiation. He said that he did not know what the effects or the yield of such a resumption would be, but then neither did Parliament. Some of what Parliament was proposing would undoubtedly be impossible to implement. His position and prestige in the eyes of princes abroad could be prejudiced, and Parliament could scarcely intend that. A Royal Commission, a delaying device which is still used today, consisting of prominent members of his Council, the judges and the Law 0fficers would be established to ascertain the facts and how far it was possible, or indeed honourable, to give the proposals the full effect that their wording indicated. Subject to these understandings, he would give his assent to an Act of Resumption.
King Henry IV was not naive enough to imagine that Parliament would see this as anything other than a delaying tactic, and furthermore as one which could be used to blunten the effects the proposals, if necessary to vanishing point. Some immediate evidence of his good intentions was needed. He provided this by agreeing that all who held Royal castles, manors, lands, tenements, rents, posessions, annuities, fees or wages, whether for life or a term of years, should surrender one year's income. This was only to apply to grants made since the accession to the throne of King Richard 11 in 1377, but would include grants made by himself since his own accession in 1399; it would not go back to 1366. In addition he undertook to require all who had received grants since 1366 to bring them in for scrutiny by the Council before Candlemas 1405. The deserving would be confirmed in their grants, and the undeserving deprived of them.
Parliament cannot have been deceived as to the results of the Royal Commission when it eventually reported, or have thought that the Act of Resumption would have all the desired effects. Nevertheless, it seems to have appreciated that it had made its point, and this was as far as the King could presently go. Before its dissolution in June 1404, it agreed to taxation which bore heavily upon the taxpayers. For all land with an annual income of more than 500 marks (£333), a land tax of 20/= for every £20 was to be paid, together with a provision for 2 1/10's and 2 1/15s in the traditional form. Previously Parliament had demanded that all records of the land tax should be destroyed. Now they were to be enrolled. The idea of the land tax had come to stay.
It cannot have come as a surprise to anyone that the implementation of the King's promises was half hearted, and the yield of the resumptions to the Royal Exchequer was correspondingly very small. There seems to be no record that the Royal Commission even met. In 1406, when Parliament met again, it had to face the fact that the King had out-manoeuvered them and that the Act of Resumption of 1404 had been a failure. It was therefore in a determined mood to seek constitutional reform of the expenses of government, whether by further insistance on the Act, or by other means, and there was an epic battle of wills when Parliament tried a new way of making the government more economical and careful with money. [pages ] Parliament put its trust in strengthening the powers of the Council by its 31 Articles, and no account of resumption, with which this Chapter is concerned, would be complete without a description of what happened when these were presented. Parliament however made it clear that had not forgotten resumption, and that in due course it would return to the attack. The Council was charged to discover by Michaelmas, when Parliament was due to meet again, the true values of all royal manors, lordships, lands and tenements let out for life, for a term of years, or for the duration of war, for a fixed rent or for nothing at all. The intention was made quite clear. They were to be resumed, and then re-let at proper rents.
The 31 Articles gave Parliament a further string to its bow to make the government more economical, and in these it placed great faith. A brief resume of their provisions laying down the rules for the work of the Council [Fryde & Miller (Brown) pp50, 51] are worth summarising here:-
Members of the Council should be paid. Some should always be with the King (Art 1)
Those who were absent should be consulted where possible (Art. 13)
Members should leave meetings where matters in which they had an interest were being discussed (Art. 14)
The Household officials must do their duty and pay regard to existing rules (Arts. 11, 21, 22, 26, 27)
The Councillors should take note of all places where revenues were spent (Art. 5)
All the revenues arising from, "gardes, mariages, voidances des temporaltees des erceveschees, eveschees, eschetes, forfaitures, priories aliens, custumes, et toutes autres commoditees, profitz, revenuz, et emolumentz du roiaume, certeins et casuels" which had not been granted away before the first day of the present Parliament were not to be granted away or excused before the last day of the next Parliament (Arts. 6, 7)
The King was to receive petitions on two days a week only when members of the Council were to be present. Anybody presenting petitions at any other time were not to be heard. They were instead to be severely punished. (Arts. 8, 9).
These 31 Articles were presented to the King in June 1406 shortly before Parliament adjourned to gather in the harvest before returning in 0ctober. A splendid figure in his robes and his crown, King Henry IV listened to them politely as they were read out with never a change of expression on his face. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking, and his inscrutability disconcerted the members, many of whom may have had doubts about the strict legality of at least some of their demands. Some Articles were quite inocuous, and represented no more than good business and accountancy practice as these were understood at the time. The King could have accepted these. 0thers, such as Articles 6 and 7, posed a threat to his Royal Prerogative, and without alteration would have been an intolerable interference in the Government of the Realm which lay with the King and the Council. Yet others, such as Articles 8 and 9, bordered on the insulting. The King however, made no distinction. He courteously but firmly rejected the lot. The most that he would agree to do, and this on his own suggestion, was to promise that no orders for expenditure would be issued to Chancery or the Exchequer without the prior endorsement of the Council.
Some will accuse the King of obstinacy, but he really had no other choice when these Articles were presented in June 1406. As has been said, some Articles were objectionable, and needed negotiation before they could be made acceptable, and negotiation requires a lot of time. The Common House with all the members present, was not a suitable venue for negotiation. It could only take place between a small number of people on each side after he had had time to consider the Articles at leisure and to consult with his Council just what he could and could not agree to. To have accepted some of the Articles and not others would scarcely have helped his negotiating position in the horse-trading that would clearly have to take place. Besides, if he had promptly agreed to, say, 10 of the Articles, there was no guarantee that Parliament would not have returned the next day with 10 more.
Parliament adjourned on 19th June 1406 to gather in the harvest. Its mood was bitter and frustrated. When it returned in 0ctober, there was, needless to say, no sign of the Council's report on resumption. Parliament began to press the King strongly on the 31 Articles, and at this point serious negotiation for some amendment began. It resembled nothing so much as modern type trade union negotiation, when the victory goes to the side who can bear the tedium of negotiation and repetition the longest, but where occasional flashes of reason are allowed to intrude. Parliament found it no easier to tie the Council down than it was to tie down the King. As Christmas approached, positions on each side became entrenched and tempers began to rise. The King made a conciliatory gesture that the oaths of Council members would in future be taken with representatives of Parliament present but, whilst this did something to lower the temperature, Parliament was still far from satisfied. Then Parliament overplayed its hand, and paid the penalty of all who overplay a hand, however strong it may be. It demanded that where monies were mis-spent, the resulting loss should be made good out of the pockets of some of the Council members. The Council members indignantly refused to agree, and the King was furious. The threat of violence hung in the air for the first time. Finally, in order to bring this eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, for such it had become, to a close in time for Christmas, the King accepted the 31 Articles with such amendments that he had been able to persuade Parliament to agree, and Parliament agreed to vote the necessary taxes. The most probable date for this final agreement is 17th December 1406. Parliament, meeting for a few more days to pass the necessary votes on taxation, then dissolved on 22nd December.
Both sides could claim victory in negotiations which each had conducted, always excluding the demand for personal guarantees from some of the Council members, with considerable skill. King Henry IV was by now a sick man, [page ] but throughout he had kept his patience and reserved the Royal anger for a demand which was outrageous. He had successfully fought off the Resumption question, and had resisted the 31 Articles for as long as he could as an impertinent invasion into the Executive role of government where the Legislature had no right to trespass. If he had accepted them willingly, he would later have found it much harder to ignore or forget them, as he had probably resolved to do, and he was no doubt aware that in day-to-day administration, it is always easy to let any ground rules lapse and finally slip into oblivion. At the same time, he never lost sight of the concerns of Parliament, and never denied that it had a duty to see that taxation did not become ruinous to his subjects as it had done in other lands, and indeed in England during the reign of King Richard 11. He also understood that ruinous taxation would pose a greater threat to his House and to his government than anything else, and to some extent Parliament's concerns and his own were the same. He needed to look no further back than King Richard 11's reign if an example were needed. On the other side, some of the more experienced members of the Parliament would not have deluded themselves that King Henry IV and the Council would have kept meticulously to the 31 Articles. At least some of them would be observed, and this would be a positive step in the right direction. The great success of the Parliament of 1406 was to make it perfectly plain to the King and to the Council that taxation would not be granted 'on the nod'. It would have to be justified, and prudent royal expenditure and the safeguarding of all sources of the Royal income had to be shown before this could be said. Parliament had tasted blood. Its interference in the processes of government and its expenditure had been accepted, albeit grudgingly, and the precedent for future similar interference had been set. Whilst resumption may be said to have failed on this occasion, it was still a weapon in the Parliamentary armoury. It could be used again.
To conclude this part of the story, it can be said that King Henry IV took the lesson very much to heart. Chapter will show how successfully he managed the Royal finances for the remainder of his reign, aided by his very able son, the future King Henry V, who came of age in 1406, and an equally able Council. Never again during Henry IV's reign were the Royal lands the subject of such criticism. He took good care to prevent this.
King Henry VI (between 1437 - 1453)
As has been said, King Henry IV took good care that no questions on the Royal lands came up again during the remaining years of his reign which ended in 1413. By King Henry VI's reign, a lot of the Royal lands had reverted, or were to revert, to the Crown on the deaths of Lionel, Duke of Clarence (1421), John, Duke of Bedford (1435), Queen Catherine of Valois (1437), and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1447). Yet Henry VI, between 1437 and 1449 alienated an emormous amount into non-royal hands and furthermore, almost the whole income from what he did retain was enjoyed by members of his household. [B.P.WOLFFE, The Crown Lands and the Parl. Acts of Resumption 1399-1495. also Fryde & Miller pp 71]
Parliament 1433 - London
Ralph Lord Cromwell, who enjoyed a considerable standing as an able protege of John, Duke of Bedford began the practice in 1433 of presenting full and detailed accounts of the national finances and having them inscribed on the Parliamentary Roll. Cromwell was in a difficult position. The King was still a minor (he only came of age in 1437), and he was not one of the Great Magnates of the land. He was simply an able executive. He did not wish to become the scapegoat for the dreadful financial position as he found it, and a written and public record was a useful safeguard. It showed a deplorable picture. [page ]
The Issue Rolls of the Exchequer receipt show similar statements being presenrted to Parliament in 1435, 1447, 1449 (twice), 1453 and 1455, with officials on hand to explain them. Clearly they were regarded as authoritative. Proposals on the household expenses, on the appropriations to be made on the land revenues, and petitions for resumption were based upon them. The petition for resumption in 1450 seems to have been so based as it begins with a string of figures. Likewise the accusations against Suffolk were based upon the 1449 figures. None of the Parliaments between 1433 and 1450 refused all supply but the growing cost of an unsuccessful war made them very critical, and the figures provided them with an opportunity to attach conditions to the grants which were, strictly speaking, within the realms of the Executive.
The 1433 Parliament insisted on a special allowance of £4000 out of each 1/10th and 1/15th granted to alleviate the burden on certain impoverished towns which it considered to have been overheavily taxed. Parliament was due to adjourn on 13th August 1433 and, no doubt with a view to forcing its hand, King Henry VI's advisers told it there was no more money for the current household expenses before it reassembled on 13th 0ctober. Parliament retorted by placing a ceiling of £2, 000 on payment of assignments allocated up to 20th July 1433, only excepting repayment of debts of money lent to the King, and told the King's advisers they would have to manage during the adjournment on the money thus made immediately available.
Parliament 1439-1440 - London
Part of the revenues of the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster were allocated by Parliament to current household expenses for five years, as were a quarter of a tenth and a fiftennth. Some further part of the Lancaster income was allocated to pay the King's debts.
Parliament 1445-1446 - London
Parliament's reluctance had become even more marked. At first it granted only 50% of tenths and fifteenths. Later when it granted a further 1 1/2 of each, it raised the allowance for impoverished towns.
Parliament 1449 - London and Winchester
Parliament first met on 12th February 1449. It began by allocating income from wardships, marriages and vacant temporalities to household expenses and restricted its first grant to half a tenth and fifteenth, and said that the price for a further grant was a large scale resumption. It was determined on this course, so perhaps insensitively, the King dissolved it on 16th July 1449.
Parliament 1449-1450 - London and Leicester
This Parliament was first called on Nov 6th 1449, and its temper was even more determined than before. It was this Pariamwnt that impeached Suffolk for the failure of his foreign policy and for his 'insatiable covertise' which had impoverished the King. [pages ] From the start a great deal of hostility towards Suffolk, the King's household in general, and indirectly the King himself, was very noticeable, and this was not confined to Parliament. Contempory lampoons indicate bitter resentment against the those who were enriching themselves from the profits of Crown lands and thus increasing the need for taxation. Protests took a more violent form; Jack Cade's rebellion, where the Kentish men had risen in arms during the sitting of this Parliament, put forward as one of its main grievances a complaint that the King's Ministers were preventing the passing of the Act of Resumption for their own selfish ends. Parliament, struggling with the problem by more constitutional means, devised a new type of appropriation of money in the hope that it would be tighter and less easy to avoid than what had gone before. Individual items from specific farms and feefarms were allocated to the King's household. It refused to make any grant in the now traditional form of 1/10ths and 1/15ths, but instead substituted a graduated property tax on the 1404 model. Then there followed a long petition for resumption.
Direct Taxes had been very heavy for a long time, an average of a complete 1/10 and 1/15th every two years. The demand for a largescale resumption aroused tremendous interest in the country at large. They had paid heavy taxes and all there had been to show for it was failure in war coupled with instability at home and in foreign trade. Heavy taxes would still have to be paid, but the idea that some of those who had by their greed and incompetance impoverished the Crown being made to disgorge their ill-gotten gains had a compelling appeal. In one of the lampoons John Hardyng reflected the public mood by publishing a rhyming chronicle which included the words:-
"taxe ceased and dymes eke also, In all Englande then rayses were no mo."
If we can take this as saying that people were fed up with paying heavy taxes and resolved to pay no more, and indeed may not have been able to, then Jack Cade's rebellion [Chapter ] is all the more easily understood.
The Ministers of the King (in marked contrast to the King himself) took no steps to stand by Suffolk, and according to 'William Worcester', Lord Cromwell had actually instigated the impeachment proceedings. [page ] They were nonetheless profoundly shaken when they saw where they led. Lords Cromwell, Say, Beauchamp and Sudeley took the lead in advising acceptance of the Bill, fully confident that, by fair means or foul, they could protect the interests of those most affected so that resumption took place 'in summe, but nat in alle'. After all, King Henry IV had managed to defeat similar Acts in 1404 and 1406. They should be able to do the same. King Henry VI accordingly gave the bill his assent, reserving only the right to add any provisos of exemptions that he considered necessary, provided that they were put in writing during the life of the present Parliament. Parliament dissolved on or about 8th June 1450; it had not had much time to deliberate, particularly taking into account the upheavals caused by Jack Cade's rebellion.
The Act envisaged resumption of all grants made since the first day of King Henry VI's reign, 1st September 1422, and itself provided for a whole raft of exceptions from its provisions. The care with which these had been drawn up indicates that the bill had been prepared with most careful legal advice. Such advice has never been obtained in a hurry, and it must have required a period of at least a year to get it into its final shape; it cannot have been a mere knee-jerk reaction. Some of the exceptions are easy and obvious, for instance Eton, King's and All Souls Colleges. 0thers are more obscure, such as grants under letters patent to children born overseas to English fathers of foreign mothers which carried the right to inheritance. The preparation of such bills can never be secret, so there must have been plenty of time for the preparation of individual bills seeking exemption. It is all the more remarkable therefore that some persons, such as the Dukes of York and Somerset, were so badly affected by it, whereas others, more far-sighted, escaped very lightly. John Crane, writing to his employer on 6th May 1450, urged him to hurry if he had any petition of his own. The expression'in summe, but nat in alle', appears in his letter. [Paston Letters ii 148 no 121.] They nonetheless sum up the feelings of those who had most to lose.
King Henry VI, on giving his assent, reserved the right to append any provisos for exemption that he considered necessary, and altogether there were 186. This may not appear a large figure when it is remebered that the Act spanned a period of 28 years, or 1422 to 1450. It is however, not inconsiderable, bearing in mind the spirit in which the Act was passed by Parliament and what Parliament's purposes were. Who were then the main beneficiaries in what looks very like an act of defiance of Parliament, and who were the main losers?
Some of the exemptions seem to have had little to do with the Act, and may have been added to confirm that the Act, where there was doubt about its terms, would not affect the property. 0thers concerned debts and obligations of the Crown, such as to Leonard, Lord Welles as Lieutenant of Ireland, to John, Earl of Shrewsbury as Steward of Ireland, and to Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham as Captain of Calais. Such grants must have been in lieu of wages earned by them but not paid. To have effected resumption in such cases would have outraged all the accepted conventions besides being politically very unwise. Some of the exemptions can be said to deal with 'hard cases' and to alleviate the effects of the Act of Resumption where grants had been made to those who deserved them. We are more concerned with the undeserving cases against whom the Act was principally directed, and here there is some evidence to show that those immediately about the King had made their preparations, and had agreed what they should retain and what they should surrender as a gesture in order to placate Parliament.
There is a contempory document setting out the names of 101 members of the household which details what they would retain and what they must be resigned to losing. Lords Beaumont, Say, Sudeley, Cromwell, Beauchamp, St Amand, Stourton, Hungerford and Stanley head the list, and it is to be noted that they were for the most part prominent Lancastrian supporters. It cannot have been difficult with a weak King, surrounded as he was by greedy people of strong personality, who were aided by a Queen whose loathing of the House of York prompted her to give support to its enemies, to have reached an agreement with him, for such this document appears to be, that between them they should surrender no more than £1, 800 a year. Some of them surrendered little or nothing at all. Some even seemed to have gained. The Suffolk family were not allowed to retain any of the Royal lands, and Lords Beauchamp and Sudeley took over large parts of them. This was indeed shabby treatment of the family whose head had served the Crown so faithfully for so long however justified the accusations of covetessness against Suffolk may have been. The unedifying scramble for self-preservation did not end there. The Duke of York was in Ireland, and the Duke of Somerset was in France at the time, and both were affected by the Act. York lost the rule of the Island of Wight to Lord Beauchamp, whilst Somerset was permitted to retain only the lands which he had inherited from his uncle, Cardinal Henry Beaufort. Some of his surrendered lands made their way into the hands of Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter. No doubt York's and Somerset's absence abroad had made it difficult for them to defend their interests in quite the same way that those more immediately about the King had not hesitated to do, but it noteworthy that nobody was prepared to fight their corners whilst they were serving the Crown overseas, not even the King himself.
The implementation of the Act of Resumption was half-hearted at the best. Although the Act was passed in May 1450, no copy of it was sent to the Exchequer until 15th 0ctober of that year (although petitions for exemptions were coming in by August), and writs to the Sheriffs, which began the administrative task of implementing the Act, were not even sent out until the Spring of 1451. It has been suggested that the disturbed state of the countryside may have been partly responsible, although a more likely reason was a wish to demonstrate to Parliament by the bureaucrat's age-old tactic of delay that the Act was an impossible measure to enforce and one that was unlikely to succeed. Even so, it must not be supposed that the Act was a complete failure, particularly at the lower end of the social scale. John Hampton, an esquire of the body, surrendered a life grant to Kempton Manor and had it converted to a 25 year lease by paying an increased rent. His colleague Thomas Daniel was not so far sighted. He lost a rent-free grant for life to his manor, and Lord Rivers leased it at a rent of £28 a year, which probably represented its market value. The same thing happened to Stephen Cote, a valet of the Chamber, whose manor was leased to him for life at 13/4d a year. 0thers were willing to pay £5, and he only recovered the manor by agreeing to pay £5-13-4d himself for a 12 year lease. There were many other similar instances.
Parliament 1450-1451 - London
This Parliament was a turning point in the long tussle with the House of Lancaster on the subject of Resumption. It had lasted for 50 years, and up till now, Parliament had been steadily losing the battle. King Henry IV had outwitted Parliament but this the Common House was prepared to accept, even if reluctantly, since he was so patently sensitive to their concerns and he refrained from making extravagent gifts. His grandson King Henry VI was such an imbecile that he had no balance or judgement and, egged on by a Queen who was already hated, he had given away so much of 'the Kings own' to favourites that there was almost nothing left for the Royal Treasury. It was the taxpayer who would have to pay the whole expense of running the country. Now at last Parliament enacted a Resumption Statute that was an outstnding success, succeeding where its predecessors had failed, even though when it became law, it did not seem likely that it would in fact enjoy any greater success.
Parliament met on 6th November 1450. If it had been determined on the subject of resumption before, there can have been little doubt that it was equally determined now to put an end to a situation it regarded as intolerable. It cannot have been pleased to hear that the Act of Resumption passed by the previous Parliament had only been sent to the Exchequer some three weeks before, and that the writs to the sheriffs had not even been sent out. Thus the steps to put the Act into effect, 6 months after the Parliament which had passed it had been dissolved, had not even been taken. If there was a detailed examination of the doings of the King's Household, there would have been confirmation that King Henry VI and his friends were as resolved as ever to nullify the effects of the 1450 Act as they so often had nullified its predecessors.
In 1451 however, Parliament had strong allies. During August 1450 Richard, Duke of York, the heir to the Throne and the King's most powerful subject, had gone so far as to leave his post in Ireland and to force his way into the King's presence with an armed escort. 0nce there, he had demanded reform. A description of this interview, where Richard did not mince his words, is given elsewhere. [pages ] No doubt the King was very shaken.
Shortly after this Parliament first met, York, well aware that he had been shouting at a mere puppet, appeared in Lomdon with a strong armed force. His kinsmen, John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, did the same. [This was the Warwick later known as 'the Kingmaker'] The Paston Letters [ii 174 no 142, dated 6th 0ctober 1450] report that the Duke of York desired, "meche thynge qwych is meche after the Comouns desyre"
There was a helpful step in the right direction when his own Chamberlain, Sir William Oldhall, became the Speaker. Emboldened by the way things were going, York then managed to have Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, taken into "protective custody". [page ] Initially this meant his being confined under house arrest in his own house at Blackfriars. An infuriated mob broke in, intent on tearing Somerset limb from limb. It is not known if York instigated this, or even if he had prior knowledge that it was going to happen, but it may be surmised that some of his supporters certainly did. Somerset escaped with difficulty in the barge of his brother-in-law, Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, and was thereafter lodged in the Tower for greater security, where not even the London mob could reach him. This suited York very nicely, and, never having taken any part Suffolks's unsuccessful government, and being obviously the sworn enemy of Somerset, his stock rose considerably. Parliament now felt the time was ripe for another petition for resumption because the 1450 Act of the previous Parliament had, "not been effectually had". As we have seen, this was no more than the truth, at least so far as the prominent people were concerned.
The petition for the new Act of Resumption again took as its starting point the first day of King Henry VI's reign, namely 1st September 1422. All grants made by the King since that date were to be annulled with effect from the same date as the earlier Act, 6th November 1449. Much of the wording in the earlier Act was repeated, but there were some changes which sought to restrict the generosity of its provisos. For instance, the exemptions earlier granted to Eton and Cambridge colleges were to be much narrower. More importantly, it was proposed to establish a committee to supervise and endorse any further grants. Again Parliament's inability to supervise such an important matter itself is shown by the composition of this committee; it was to consist of the Chancellor, the Treasurer, the Keeper of the Privy Seal and 6 Lords of the Council, all of whom would be Household men. Although it was a substantial derogation of a medieval King's Prerogative, there should have been little difficulty in packing it with his chosen nominees, all the more easily since the King appointed the members of his Council. Since Parliament was not in continuous session, and rarely included the same members from one Parliament to the next, it represented the best that Parliament could do. King Henry VI's prestige was very low, and he was overawed by York and his party. He did not give an immediate answer, but took advantage of the Christmas break (Parliament adjourned on the 18th December 1450) and retired to his palace at Greenwich to think about it all.
Parliament was due to resume again on 2oth January 1451, and over the Christmas holidays, the Queen, alarmed by the success of her Yorkist enemies, took full advantage of the opportunity to work upon her weak-willed husband. By the new year, a large measure of the King's self-confidence, such as it was, had returned. Somerset was released from the Tower, and to York's annoyance, was appointed to the prestigeous post of Captain of Calais. No doubt it was intended to keep him out of the way for a bit until the public clamour against him had died down. He did not take up his post at once, and it was regarded as a useful bolt-hole. King Henry VI was anxious to achieve some balance between his two most powerful subjects and to persuade them to work together even though this must have appeared to be a lost cause. As a start, and to keep idle hands occupied, he sent them off to Kent on a commission of 0yer et terminer to try the rebels of Jack Cade's rebellion. They carried out this task with speed and efficiency in what later became known in Kent as the 'Harvest of Heads.' In the meantime, the King did not wait in London for Parliament. It is always good tactics when dealing with the pressing demands of a stronger party not to give an answer when they expect it, but to keep them waiting a little, and there was in any case a need to reassure the King's loyal subjects in Kent that he cared about them in the wake of the devastation caused by the two Dukes. It would do Parliament no harm to have to kick its heels for a bit. He therefore went on a Royal Progress through Kent between 28th January and 23rd February 1451 and showed himself freely to the people. 0n his way back to London, a group of rebels, wearing nothing but their shirts, knelt humbly by the side of the road and implored the King's pardon. With great dignity and grace, he gave it. He then entered London and 'rode right royally through the City'.
The Royal Progress had been an enormous success, and it did a lot to re-establish King Henry VI in popular esteem. Before Christmas, he had seemed like a mere cipher or non-entitity who simply did what he was told to do. The Queen had used the Christmas break to good purpose, namely to instill a measure of resolution into him. Now he could give his answer to Parliament with the full dignity and majesty of a medieval King who had just completed a successful tour of his land, and had received from his subjects many expressions of their love and loyalty. From this position of regal dignity, wearing his beautiful robes and Crown, King Henry VI gave his careful and considered reply. Some parts of the petition were rejected, among them the proposal for a supervising committee. The scholastic foundations were to continue to have full immunity. The new Act was to take effect from Lady day 1451. The exemptions which Parliament had included into the petition were accepted. The King reserved the right to add his own provisos and exemptions during the life of the present Parliament. Parliament adjourned again on 29th March 1451, reassembled on 5th May, and was finally dissolved at the end of that month. Between these dates, the King had added 43 provisos of exemption.
The notable success of the King in defusing a nasty situation with Parliament owes a lot to the careful stage management of his reply to that body but, even though the King's answer to Parliament indicated more Royal concessions than could reasonably have been expected, it does seem that King Henry VI and his Council had been a lot slower to learn the lesson of his Grandfather's time in 1406. There is some disagreement whether the 186 exemptions from the 1450 Act survived to reach the 1451 Act, but the better view seems to be that they did not, and that the only provisos that did remain effective in the 1451 Act were the 43 which are mentioned. With few exceptions, these are drawn in general and not personal terms. But some lessons had been relearnt, at least for the time being. Chicanery and underhand dealings would not be tolerated, and Parliament was not easily to be thrown off the scent. Some indication of the success of the 1451 Act may be found in the numbers of new leases:-
[Fryde & Miller (B.P.Wolfe) p 84]
These range between whole lordships like Pembroke and substantial groups of manors like the Gurney lands down to single tenements in London. All the leases appear to have been at proper market rates. There were a marked number of jointly held leases, and even some leases to Syndicates, particularly to men who had no obvious connection with the political scene, and the implication is that financial considerations were paramount. Moreover, many liberties.privileges and annuities were annulled, both on land and on other sources of revenue, such as the Customs duties. It is true that some were re-granted, but it is also true that many others were not. The very greatest in the land bore their burden as well as the humbler folk. The extraordinarily lavish grants made between 1437 and 1449 were almost entirely undone. It is true that it did little to rescue the Crown from its debts, which reached the staggering figure, so far as it could be calculated, of £375, 000. If there is to be financial reform however, it must be wholesale and not piecemeal, and every problem must be tackled, however trivial its effect on the whole picture. The Act did not, and could not, do everything that was necessary all at once, but at least a good start had been made.
It must not be thought that those who deserved to lose, and did lose, heavily under the 1451 Act had tamely surrendered. During the 1453 Parliament, when Richard, Duke of York was paying the penalty for his failed rebellion in 1452 [pages ] and was in disgrace, a further Resumption Act was passed which did something towards reversing the effects of the successful 1451 Act. The obvious intention was to chip away at its provisions so that, little by little, it would become a dead letter and the bad old days could return. After their victory at the First battle of St Albans 1455, the Yorkists, who now had the King in their power, could do much to repair the damage and thus restore most of the effects of the 1451 Act; they did not feel strong enough to repeal the 1453 Act in its entirety, the most desirable step of all. Their 1455 Statute could explain the sudden leap in the number of new leases during 1455/6.
If we attempt a summary of the Lancastrian Acts of Resumption in the two main periods, 1404-1406, and 1449 -1451, we can see how each side, the King and his Council on one, and Parliament on the other, had comported themselves. Here the behaviour of the Parliament which met in Reading on 23rd March 1453 becomes especially relevant.
The King should have been concerned not to allow interference with his Prerogative to give grants of the Royal lands or otherwise charge some of their income to preserve the political balance and to reward good service. Parliament seems not to have been so concerned with deserving causes, but more with grants to the King's favourites and cronies, many of which were undeserving and indeed wasteful. It was not in a position however, to tackle the problem by making a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving; it had to proceed on an all or nothing basis. We have already seen in Chapter how wise and astute King Henry IV had been in meeting the legitimate concerns of his Parliaments and how successful he was in defending his Prerogative. He was a wise man of very strong character. King Henry VI possessed neither characteristic. He was surrounded by greedy and grasping men, many of whom had no thought for the public weal, all of whom were of much stronger character than he was himself. His Queen, contending with the frustrations of a weak-willed husband, fought her own corner with barely a thought for the overall political picture. He accordingly paid the price by having to allow Parliament to intrude into the sphere of allocating portions of the Royal income, a right which should have been his and his alone. 0n its side, Parliament may have appeared to be totally unreasonable. As has been remarked earlier in this Chapter, it was always concerned to make sure that the Royal Revenues were not wasted on undeserving people, and then be called upon to pay heavy taxation to meet government expenditure. Yet its members, except perhaps in the early days, never lost sight of the fact that some supply would be required to the Crown, and that it would have to vote for some taxation. There were but few cases of Parliament refusing all taxation, and if it was pressing and insistent, and on occasions disrespectful and even rude when it pressed for Royal economy, it was always consistent and patently honest in its purposes. It had no ulterior motives.
Parliament 1453 - Reading
Parliament, and in particular the Common House, had generally been true and honest in its purposes during the half-century of struggle on Resumption. It had seen no objection to granting taxation so that the Crown had enough money to pay the expenses of running the country (even though it usually refused to pay the expenses of the War in France), but it had to be re-assured that there was no waste of 'the King's own'. Such waste, after the experience of King Richard II's extravagent reign, had included grants of the Royal Revenues to rapacious and undeserving favourites who had done nothing to deserve them. By 1453, it was obvious that the 1451 Act had been an outstanding success, succeeding where ite predecessors had failed. The time had now come to show that, now resumption was taking place on a wide scale, that it was prepared to grant the King the money he needed.
The following quotation is interesting:-
"And yff it wolde not than be so gret, I holde it for undouted that the people off his lande woll be well wyllunge to graunte hym a subsidie, uppon suche comodites off his reaume as bith be ffore specified, as shall accomplishe that wich shall lakke hym off such livelod".
[In modern parlance:- "If the income of 'the King's own' is not enough, I cannot see his subjects being unwilling to grant him a subsidy, levied on such objects as may be specified, as shall ensure that he does have enough money]
Certainly this Parliament was the most co-operative King Henry VI had ever dealt with. The King had taken the steps that it had asked him to take, this time effectively. Parliament answered with a vote for supply which was extremely generous and for which there were only two precedents - to Henry V after the Battle of Agincourt, and to Richard 11 in 1398. A life grant was given on the subsidy on wool, the tax on aliens and of tunnage and poundage and furthermore, 1 1/2 tenths and fifteenths were also voted. There is a reference to a force of 13, 000 archers for service at home, and it not immediately clear why Parliament should have allowed this, or for what purpose. Such a body would have represented the entire national stock of archers, and their annual wages @ 6d a day would have cost £118, 625 a year. It could have been some attempt to organise the many old soldiers returning from the French wars, who were being a nuisance in the countryside, into some force where they could be kept under control until they could be demobilised and absorbed into the civilian labour market. 0n the other hand, the more likely explanation is that the reference to 'service at home'is misleading, and Parliament was expressing its willingness to pay for the force which had been dispatched to Bordeaux under the command of John Talbot, the veteren Earl of Shrewsbury (which came to grief on the Battlefield of Castillon 1453), and was stipulating a maximum, and very liberal, number which was most unlikely ever to be reached.
Parliaments generosity did not stop there. It made no difficulty in granting a petition that the King's two half brothers, Edmund of Hadham and Jasper of Hatfield, should be declared legitimate, created earls, and endowed with the lands of Richmond and Kendal, and of Pembroke respectively. Queen Margaret's dower was put onto a sounder basis. In 1446, there had been no lands to give her. Now there were. The King had ample cause to come to Parliament and thank the Common House in person on 2nd July 1453.
This last date represents the apogee of King Henry VI's relations with his Parliaments during his long reign. At last the long and contentious battle on resumptions was over, and each side had worked out a modus vivendi which, perhaps uneasily, they could each live with. Each understood the other better, and at last each had a basis to understand and work better with the other. It really seemed that stability was within the grasp of all, and with stability they could work together to resolve the fearsome problems with which the country was faced. There must have been a happy King, and many happy knights of the shire, who mounted their horses that summer evening of 2nd July 1453 and turned their heads for home.
Then all this carefully woven fabric came unravelled. Within days, Shrewsbury's force was destroyed at the Battle of Castillon 1453 and the last English possessions in the South of France were lost. Within days, the King became mad, and a bitter political battle between the Queen and Richard, Duke of York ensued. Within days, the scene was set for civil war. But then, carefully planned arrangements falling to pieces and turning to dust in the hand is all part of the story of the Wars of the Roses.
Resumption in later years
The scene shifts to the reign of King Edward IV. After his dazzling victory at the battle of Towton 1461, there was a wholesale attainder of the defeated Lancastrian Lords which resulted in their lands passing to the Crown in any event. There was thus little need for Resumption. This source of addition to 'the King's own' began to dry up after the battle of Hexham 1464, and some Lancastrian Lords who had made their submissions were having their property returned to them. Resumption petitions began to reappear, but now they took on a new form.
At first sight, a pure charade took place. The King needed money so Parliament was called. Parliament promptly petitioned for Resumption. King Edward IV said he saw nothing wrong with this, but pointed out that he perfectly properly could, and would, make provisos where he thought they were called for before he gave the Act his assent. Parliament would then grant him the taxes he wanted.
It was however more subtle than this. Parliament used the Resumption petitions as a means of inspecting the grants made by the King since the last Parliament and required the King to justify them. Having considerable sympathy with his policy of forgiving those attainted who showed contrition and restoring their property to them, they usually accepted his explanations, being well aware that this King was particularly careful to keep their concerns well to the forefront of his mind. There was thus a check on wasteful Royal largesse, and the King had to be careful with his grants. Parliament may have won the long battle in 1451, but with the example of the 1453 Act before it, it felt the need to be vigilant.
|Copyright © Michael D. Miller 2003|